Tokyo and Japan in the last years are getting more and more popular as a travel destination on a global scale.
Maybe you too have considered taking a trip to the capital of the Rising Sun, maybe travel reports you have heard or read have set your curiosity in motion but you still can't picture yourself clearly what to expect.
More often than not Tokyo's image abroad is the result of clichés and commonplace concepts, which may misfire into giving the city an aura of coldness or even hostility...
Nothing could be further from the truth! This post's very aim is to shed a light on that sort of misunderstandings and let Tokyo's aundance of beauty and attraction shine through.
Here's seven of the many elements that contribute in conjuring up Tokyo's unique charm :
1. The sci-fi megalopolis's feel
Hearing Tokyo's name mentioned, the image most likely to appear in front of somebody's eyes is maybe this: a dense cityscape sprawling beyond the horizon, spaceship-like skyscrapers , swarming neon signs, gargantuan junctions and overpasses, the ebb and tide of endless crowds...
Who could argue? Indeed it is all here to see! Maybe moving to Tokyo for good is not on top of everyone's agenda, anyway experiencing the electric glare of Shinjuku at midnight, the 360 degrees bustle of the iconic Shibuya crossing, the endless underground maze around Otemachi is both awe-inducing and exhilarating beyond words. You just need to be there to get it.
2. The quiet of the gardens
Rest assured: traditional Japan hasn't fled the nation's capital yet. Like islets of beauty and peace amongst the concrete billows of the construction frenzy, Tokyo fondly cherishes its gardens.
Seven of them are protected as Cultural Heritage of the city, a few amongst these dating back to the 17th century.
Be it Kiyosumi-Shirakawa's stones carefully selected from all over the country, the seasonal blossoms of tiny Mukojima-Hyakkaen,
the unexpectedly graceful Anglo-Japanese garden hybrid of Kyu-Furukawa or the imposing Hamarikyu on the seaside, Tokyo's gardens win over everyone's heart.
3. The wealth of the architecture
The character of a city, the overall impression it leaves on the visitor is, before anything else, created by its buildings and structures.
To move around Tokyo, on foot as much as by train, provides the opportunity to have the thousands faces of the city parading before one's eyes, together with the many different ages of its history juxtaposed in their timeless cohabitation.
Skyscrapers and temples, grandiose mansions and futuristic follies, chrome-plated steel and wood: almost all forms of architecture which may come to mind are on display along the urban vastness.
In Minato ward it takes a five minutes walk to leave behind the local Tour Eiffel lookalike, Tokyo Tower, and stumble upon the stranded spaceship which hosts the main temple of the Reiyuukai sect. There really is something for everyone here.
Try to imagine what your school commute would feel like if you were a student enrolled in Aoyama Technical College, the building
pictured below. I feel like going back to school...
4. The warmth of shitamachi
Reaching this point you may well be under the impression that, aside from the provisional sanctuary provided by the gardens, there's no escaping the hubbub of the megacity. Let's allow Tokyo to pull out one of the countless aces she has up her generous kimono sleeves: enter the shitamachi, the historic downtown.
The city is dotted with small neighbourhoods who seem to live in a time of their own, where life with its smalltown feel flows easy-paced in a subdued atmosphere.
Having survived the havoc of the fire-bombings and the construction rush of the economic bubble, these neighbourhoods hold tight to their distinct ambiance, created by narrow streets, wooden buildings, small temples and ubiquitous cats . Just a few minutes and you may as well have forgotten the 35 million inhabitants-strong metropolitan area spreading around you!
The most representative is maybe Yanaka, the most famous definitely is Asakusa, many more of these districts though are well worth a visit: Fukagawa, Shibamata, Mukojima, Kameari, Sugamo, and the list could go on...
5. The impeccability of public transportation
The cleanliness of the carriages, the clockwork-like punctuality of the trains, the vastness of the network. For many visitors from abroad the first encounter with Tokyo's underground system opens the floodgates of all culture shocks then to follow.
To the thirteen subway lines countless railway lines on the surface must be added, together they form the circulatory system of the
ever-pulsating protean organism known as Tokyo.
The Japanese do love their trains, to the point of generating a subculture of hardcore trainspotters named tecchan. On weekends they may be seen, camera in hand, lurking paparazzi-like along the busiest railway junctions. In the picture below Nippori station shows how well deserved her status of trainspotter's Shangri-la is.
You don't need to be that much of a train enthusiast to appreciate some of Tokyo's most charming railway lines though: everyone will enjoy the rollercoaster-like Yurikamome line going to the islands of the bay, the Toden Arakawa streetcar pacing idly amongst rose bushes, the Toneri Liner climbing to some dizzy 30 meters above ground level, the retro-futurist allure of Tokyo Monorail.
6. The crazyness of its inhabitants (well, some of them...)
Don't be mistaken into thinking the railway fanatics are a rare exception: eccentrics, adorable basketcases and devotees of bizzare subcultures are not seldom to be met around Japan's capital. Their presence contributes on many occasions to have a casual stroll around town turn into a seamless theory of big guffaws, little perplexities and great photo opportunities.
For instance: did you know here one can buy hats for cats from vending machines? Choosing from six diffferent lines of them, a little something for every occasion. If you don'thappen to be of the feline persuasion still you can choose to sip a warm drink while petting owls, hedgehogs or assorted reptiles in the respective dedicated cafès spread around the city.
The nation's most beloved pastime activity though is pachinko: a hellish crossbreeding of slot-machine, pinball and videogame incessantly blasting out a ear-shattering racket. Add a thick layer of cigarette smoke to that and the enigma of how can both young and elderly merrily spend hours in pachinko parlors gets seemingly impossible to untangle.
All in all, the loveliest oddities are the decorations average Tokyoites choose to enliven their homes, shops and offices: take as an example the camel and robot mounting guard to some guy's laundry in the picture below, shot by yours truly around Sendagi station.
One hardly gets bored in Tokyo, that's for sure...
7. The politeness of the inhabitants (nearly all of them!)
Eventually, what hardly fails in winning the heart of every visitor is the astounding politeness encountered pretty much everywhere. Almost no tourist from abroad is left untouched by the warming smiles and the solicitous care everyone, waitresses, station personnel, food stalls vendors or even just casual passersby are always ready to welcome you with.
The old Japanese saying states it clearly: "every guest is a god". When the animated figures on the ATM screen will greet you with a bow,
you'll realize this is not an overstatement.
By now i think you have enough material to picture what to expect from this amazing city.
Obviously this is nothing but the tip of the iceberg: Tokyo has so much on offer, a lifetime of exploration wouldn't suffice to uncover all its wonders, have it from a guy who lives here...
A trip to Tokyo is very likely to become an unforgettable experience. Time to pack and buy your tickets...
In case you need someone to show you around...
Triplelights offers tours with an English-speaking local guide to accompany you in your first contact
with the city or to explore its hidden gems. Here is a few options:
Please do get in touch for any information or inquiry. Tokyo is waiting for you.
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